Communist Party general secretary Robert Griffiths comments on the Budget and Spending Review
Hot on the heels of his speech at the Conservative Party conference, Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s campaign for the party’s leadership and 10 Downing Street continues. His Budget address was more like a hustings appeal, bigging himself up with bogus generosity based on highly selective guess-work.
He made much of the Office for Budget Responsibility’s uprating of this year’s economic growth rate in Britain to 6.5%. It’s not difficult to achieve a much higher rate than last year’s peak-Covid level. Cutting the grass in a graveyard will increase its level of economic activity by 100%.
The Chancellor had to admit that although the estimated growth in GDP remains high at 6% next year, these Chinese-style levels then vanish, falling to more traditional British-style levels of 2.1% in 2023, 1.3% in 2024 and 1.6% in 2025 – most of these lower than forecast in the Budget just seven months ago.
In the meantime, unemployment will peak at more than 5% as inflation stays above 4% next year.
Posing as the workers’ friend, Sunak repeated the recent announcement that the public sector pay freeze will end next spring as the so-called Living Wage is increased by 6.6% for most low-paid workers. That will bring no comfort now, when millions of workers and their families face rocketing food, fuel and transport bills.
Furthermore, in the small print of its new ‘Economic and Fiscal Outlook’, the OBR points out that most of the National Insurance and Health and Social Care levy will be ‘passed through entirely to lower real wages in the medium term’.
The Chancellor’s ‘Father Christmas’ act also included a modest cut in the taper tax rate on Universal Credit when claimants find work, yet this will save them £2bn compared with the £6bn taken from UC claimants when the £20 weekly uplift was withdrawn.
Santa Sunak boasted about extra spending on the NHS, housing, transport and education – but much of this was already included in existing spending projections and in all cases falls far short of what is needed to produce a Green economy, ‘levelling up’ and ‘world-class public services’.
In fact, public spending as a proportion of GDP is still set to fall next year and stay flat at least until 2026-27. Although the Spending Review pledged a major increase in capital spending for the next two years, the small print reveals cuts from 2024 onwards – when the bills for more nuclear warheads will arrive.
Noticeably, the Chancellor’s temporary handouts included only a handful of peanuts in the Scottish and Welsh block grants, despite higher levels of poverty and lower wages and GDP of those two countries.
The delay in restoring Britain’s overseas aid budget to 0.7% of GDP until 2024 is shameful, especially when the reduction saved £4bn a year and Sunak has an unexpected tax receipts windfall of £43bn this financial year and almost double that thereafter.
Retaining the biggest tax burden on workers and their families since the post-war years not only enables government borrowing to fall dramatically over the coming period. It would also leave Chancellor Sunak enough to dole out bribes to voters in the run-up to the next General Election.
A Chancellor genuinely committed to a Green economy, ‘levelling up’ and ‘world-class public services’ would have increased short-term current spending on public services, invested in medium-term Green infrastructure projects, reversed the long-term decline in Treasury support for local government and cancelled the expansion of Britain’s nuclear weapons arsenal.
More specifically, he could have slashed VAT on energy bills, maintained the Universal Credit uplift, raised social benefits (not least for family carers), reinstated the state pension ‘triple lock’ and brought forward the Corporation Tax rise to next year with no cut in the banking surcharge.
As it is, the Budget and Spending Review could quickly be blown off course as the big monopolies in the financial, energy, transport, manufacturing, construction and retail sectors continue to put profiteering before Green and socially vital investment.
Workers and their unions have no option but to step up the fight for higher wages, pensions and benefits and to challenge profit-driven market forces with the demand for public ownership and economic planning.